November 08, 2014 02:55 PM

At 45, Matthew McConaughey has the kind of life most actors can only dream of – an Oscar for last year’s Dallas Buyers Club; a new sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar; a gorgeous family he adores.

And with his ready smile and laid-back charm, he makes it all look so … easy.

Not true: The pride of Longview, Texas, has a fearsome work ethic, an unquenchable thirst for self-discovery and a joie de vivre that has nothing to do with fame.

“As long as I can remember, he’s been happy,” says his mom, Kay.

“He’s the same thoughtful, kind, happy person he always was. He’s just Matthew.”

Now the actor takes on the role of writer for PEOPLE and shares 10 moments that shaped him …

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